Mexico City Blues (242 Choruses) • The Scripture of the Golden Eternity • Book of Blues • Pomes All Sizes • Old Angel Midnight • Desolation Pops • Book of Haikus • uncollected poems
“Jack Kerouac has one of the most sophisticated ears in twentieth-century literature. As the inventor of the Beat Generation, he wrote poetry that cuts through generations to the continuous present.”—Anne Waldman
Read an interview with volume editor Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell on Reader's Almanac, the Library of America blog
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Poetry was at the center of Jack Kerouac’s sense of mission as a writer. “I’d better be a poet / Or lay down dead,” he wrote in “San Francisco Blues.” The celebrated “spontaneous bop prosody” of his prose was a direct outgrowth of the poetry that filled his notebooks throughout his writing life. This landmark edition gathers for the first time all of Kerouac’s major poetic works—Mexico City Blues, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, Book of Blues, Pomes All Sizes, Old Angel Midnight, Desolation Pops, Book of Haikus—along with a rich assortment of his uncollected poems, six published here for the first time.
Kerouac wrote poetry in forms as diverse as the classical Japanese haiku (and his own American variants of it, which he sometimes called “Pops”), the Buddhist sutra, the prose poetry of Old Angel Midnight (which he described as “the haddal-da-babra of babbling world tongues coming in thru my window at midnight”), doggerel ballads and free-form songs, the psalms preserved in early notebooks, and the poetic “blues” he developed in Mexico City Blues and other serial works, seeing himself as “a jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam session on Sunday.”
But his sense of form was closely allied to a commitment to spontaneous utterance—to a poetry awake to “All the endless conception of living beings / Gnashing everywhere in Consciousness / Throughout the ten directions of space”—and a longing for transcendent experience that marked his work from the beginning. “My only ambition,” he wrote in 1943, “is to be free in art.” That freedom came at a high personal price. Kerouac’s collected poems immerse us in what editor Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell describes as “the impenetrable complexities, engulfing vulnerabilities, and insoluble demands that life made on his heart and mind.”
Many poets have found Kerouac a liberating influence on their work. Robert Creeley called him “a genius at the register of the speaking voice, a human voice talking”; Michael McClure saw him as using “the whole of his life . . . as an instrument of perception”; for Allen Ginsberg he was “a poetic influence over the entire planet”; and Bob Dylan singled out Mexico City Blues as crucial to his own artistic development.
Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell, editor, is a poet, painter, and short story writer who was born in Haiti and grew up there and in France. She has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, and is the author of the poetry collection Crossroads and Unholy Water and The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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